Berkshires After Dark: Guthrie Center a friendly, laid-back venue


GREAT BARRINGTON -- My summer road-tripping adventures continue, but Sunday evening, I drove straight from Cape Cod to The Guthrie Center.

For the month of August, The Eagle has two special guests visiting through the International Center for Journalists -- reporters Samina Kulsoom and Jahanzaib, both of Pakistan, a country I visited earlier this year ( I thought Sunday night's Music in Common concert (get more information here: http:// would be a great opportunity to visit a historical place and experience the melting pot of music and cultures that can exist in the Berkshires.

For those of you who don't know, The Guthrie Center is housed in the old Trinity Church of "Alice's Restaurant" fame. As Arlo Guthrie's folk song goes, "Alice didn't live in a restaurant. She lived in the church nearby the restaurant, in the bell tower, with her husband Ray, and Fasha the dog "

According to the center's website, the building was created as St. James Chapel in 1829, enlarged in 1866 and renamed Trinity Church. Ray and Alice Brock purchased the property in 1964 and made it their home. The white building has had several owners since the early 1970s. Guthrie established it as an interfaith church, community center and home of The Guthrie Foundation in 1991.

It also serves as a concert hall, this year welcoming the likes of Tracy Bonham, Meg Hutchinson, Tom Chapin, Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion, among many others booked in its 2014 Troubadour Series.

I've covered a couple of education programs there over the years, but Sunday was the first time I got to hear music in the space.

Though not as famous as some of the above, the students we saw took advantage of the professional backdrop.

When you walk through the front door, you'll enter an atrium with rustic wood floors and a reception counter. Local art, posters and photographs from concerts past adorn the walls. The students used the space to set up a bake sale table, and people took advantage of the space to talk and mingle.

A doorway leads into the main hall, which includes two levels.

A sound board and spotlights were set up in the balcony. Large pink, red and white lanterns strung across the soaring ceiling provided ambient lighting. Instruments, microphones and other equipment were set up on the former altar, still covered with red carpet. Café tables and draped chairs were set up along the floor of the room, which was filled to capacity.

I listened and worked from the balcony area, giving me a full perspective of the stage and sound.

The Guthrie Center is a great place to experience performance in an intimate setting. The ceiling height offers a nice space for acoustics to soar, but the room's also small enough for sound to not become muffled.

The students performed both acoustic and a cappella music, which both carried well.

I'm not sure whether they typically let people watch shows from the balcony, but the only downside to it was the light wires dangling from the ceiling obstructed some of the view.

But the true reason to go to The Guthrie Center, aside from its strong musical lineup, is the people. The venue's mission and motto is, "Take Care & Give Care."

The staff is wonderfully welcoming, including Director George Lay, who seemed to welcome everyone with a warm handshake or a big hug.

The center itself also offers free community meals and homework services, as well as yoga classes and special events. Each Thursday night at 7, there's the Hootenanny, giving a chance for local musicians, poets and other creative types to perform.

My guests, who arrived to the venue exhausted from a long afternoon of traveling left awake and "re-energized," as Samina put it, after a heartwarming evening of beautiful music and messages of hope.

If you're the type of person who has a hippie, peacenik, adventurous and/or laid-back side with a love for good music, The Guthrie Center is a must-visit.

If you go ...

The Guthrie Center, 2 Van Deusenville Road, Great Barrington. or (413) 528-1955. Also on Facebook.

Style: Community and spiritual center and contemporary secular concert hall.

Dress: Come as you are.

Cover: For music events, tickets range from $15 to $60 for headliners in the Troubadour Series; $3 cover for Hootenanny nights.

Food: Concessions available.

Entertainment: This weekends shows include the Winterpills on Friday and Rory Block on Saturday. Doors for both shows open at 6 p.m., with show times at 8. Tickets are $20 for members and $25 for non-members.

Our rating: 4 mugs

Rating system: 1 mug, Run away; 2 mugs, Yawn; 3 mugs, Cheers; 4 mugs, "I'll be back"; 5 mugs, "Round's on me!"

Your rating: You can rate The Guthrie Center at


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